'Crowning glory' honours life's work of professor
By Adela Talbot
June 19, 2014
Anton Allahar is just about ready to hang up his hat – on campus, at least.
Following a long and distinguished academic career at Western, one speckled with awards and accolades for exceptional teaching and scholarship, Allahar called his latest achievement his “crowning glory” – the perfect send-off into his impending retirement.
At its annual conference last month, the Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) awarded the inaugural CSA Lifetime Achievement Award to Allahar, who teaches in the Department of Sociology at Western. The award recognizes his academic leadership in and contributions to the field of Caribbean Studies.
“I have published books on Cuba, taught at the University of Havana, I have honorary degrees there (from the University of Havana and University of Oriente). I’ve been invited (to teach) by the Russians, the Chinese. I thought my credentials were intact,” Allahar said.
“And then the CSA comes along and makes this magnificent gesture, and it really does feel like the crowning glory, a nice way to cap my career, to be able to say, ‘Yes, I have gotten recognition as a Caribbeanist, that my university wouldn’t give me, but people from over 200 other universities have seen as an important gesture,’” he continued.
“(Western) is an unusual place in that regard, where I am given an award for Caribbean studies, but we have no course in Caribbean studies; we don’t have a program. We have programs in black studies, women’s studies and gay studies, but nothing in Caribbean studies,” he added.
“So I’ve had to carve a niche for myself and make myself indispensible, and sneak my Caribbean studies in through the back door of things – like a class on race class in colonial society.”
However thrilled with the award and his career’s accomplishments, Allahar lamented the lack of recognition bestowed upon the Caribbean.
“I always tell my students we must not think of the Caribbean in terms of sunshine and beaches, rum and salsa dancing – that the Caribbean region has produced four or five Nobel Prizes in literature. How many have we produced in Canada?” he said.
“When I think of a university education, it must be a universal education, so you would appear to be more erudite when you go into external company, so you know more than the little neighbourhood from which you come. That’s what a university education is about,” Allahar explained.
“For too long we’ve permitted the Caribbean to be seen as an afterthought.”
In addition to numerous books and publications, covering Caribbean studies, politics, race, class and identity, and as of late, issues plaguing the academy, Allahar holds six major teaching awards including the 3M National Teaching Fellowship, Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Association Teaching Award and Western’s Edward G. Pleva Award for Excellence in Teaching. He has also held posts as a visiting professor at the University of Leningrad, University of the South Pacific and The University of the West Indies. He is an active member of many professional associations, such as the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean, and Cuba Research and Analysis Group.
“I cannot neglect to mention my students, who, over the years, have made me the professor I am,” Allahar added.
“My students here, or the students who I’ve taught in Jamaica, Fiji, Cuba, Russia … they all fed into my sociological imagination and brought that comparative dimension. Comparative work is the cement of what we do in Sociology,” he said.
“One of the great Trinidadian philosophers, C. L. R. James, who wrote a book on cricket, asked a rhetorical question, ‘What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?’ So, what do they know of Canada, who only Canada know?”
8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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